Dismantling “Benevolent” Sexism
How you respond to sexism in the workplace matters.
“While men should continue interrupting sexism at work, they should also recognize that some responses may not be as effective as they think.”
Sexism can persist in a variety of forms including benevolent sexism and hostile sexism.
Benevolent sexism is defined by “attitudes, practices, and actions that seem positive — such as aid, flattery, and rewards — but that undercut their goal of supporting women at work, often under the pretense of providing them with help, protection, compliments, and affection.”
The consequences of perpetuating both benevolent and hostile sexism for women in the workspace are identical:
- negative impacts on mental and physical health
- increased feelings of incompetence
- less career support
Common misbeliefs that promote benevolent sexism:
Misbelief #1: Men are responsible for women.
Example: Not offering a woman a high-visibility project or challenging international assignment because she has young children.
Misbelief #2: Men and women are different and complementary.
Example: Suggesting that a woman would be better suited for a position in HR rather than sales.
Misbelief #3: Men’s personal lives depend on women.
Example: Complimenting a woman colleague’s appearance and commenting that her husband is a lucky man.
The misbeliefs highlighted above can seem positive. Before calling out sexism, one should consider whether the response reinforces harmful beliefs about gender.
This study found that “the higher a man’s position in the corporate hierarchy, the more likely he is to say he’d respond in a benevolently sexist manner. As the most senior leaders of their organizations, these men are not only undermining the women they want to support but also modeling harmful behavior to other managers.”
How Men Can Interrupt Sexism at Work
Increase your awareness.
What assumptions do you make about how people should or should not behave based on their gender? Are you making an effort to learn more about how benevolent sexism effects the workplace?
Deepen your reflection.
What are the assumptions behind your words? What impact will your actions have? Are you implying that women can’t or shouldn’t do a project or task themselves?
Apply your knowledge.
If you hear others making benevolently sexist comments, challenge them. For example, if a colleague wants to “save” a woman from a complex project, help him zoom out by asking, “What are the consequences of not involving her in this project? Wouldn’t it be better to ask her directly instead of assuming she won’t want it?”
Praise others who interrupt benevolent sexism.
Acknowledge colleagues who interrupt benevolently sexist behavior. For example, reach out to a team member to say, “What you did made a positive impact on the team.”
Model equitable behavior.
Focus on women employees’ competencies rather than on traits such as style or appearance. Give feedback related to work results and objective goals instead of characteristics stereotypically associated with women, such as warmth or likeability.
The key to having comfortable conversations surrounding sexism is to approach the conversation with curiosity with the aim of education, rather than blame.
Women can play a role in dismantling sexism as well. By practicing the methods identified previously, women can identify when benevolent sexism occurs and address the behavior effectively.
When women succeed, we all succeed.
Read the full Harvard Business Review article by Negin Sattari, Sarah H. DiMuccio, Joy Ohm, and Jose M. Romero here.
Why So Many Women Physicians Are Quitting
Why does practicing medicine take a greater toll on women?
Compared to men, women physicians spend more time per patient, documenting electronic medical records, and handling non-professional responsibilities.
As a result, women physicians have higher rates of burnout and depression and lower rates of professional fulfillment.
These findings also shed light on other differences between female and male physicians in the following:
- Alignment: the relationship and shared values physicians have with organizational leadership
- Resilience: the ability to find meaning in work and the ability to re-charge when away from work
- Intent to stay: the likelihood to remain with the organization three years from now
How can we level the playing field?
Organizations must focus on:
Flexibility to meet both professional and personal demands.
Respect strategies for encouraging inclusive workplace culture.
Equitable Advancement Opportunities and Pay reviewing current and new compensation plans to ensure gender pay equity.
Ask yourself, is your practice a good place for women physicians to work?
SCC is committed to ensuring pay equality for all surgeons. We are passionate about educating female physicians in the business of medicine.
Knowledge is power. Know your value.
Learn about fair market value salary and negotiate your worth.
Contact us for a free consultation today.
2021 Doximity Physician Compensation Report
The 2021 Doximity data showed there are no medical specialties in which women earned the same or more than men in 2021.
“The physician gender pay gap has increased over the last five years, even when controlled for specialty, location, and years of experience.
In 2021, the gender pay gap was 28.2%, which represents over $122,000 difference in compensation in one year.
An analysis of our physician compensation data from 2014-2019 estimated that over the course of a career, male physicians make over $2 million more than female physicians.”
The largest pay gaps between men and women were in the following specialties:
- Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
- Allergy & Immunology
- Pediatric Nephrology
- Thoracic Surgery
Metro Areas with the Highest
Compensation for Women
Metro Areas with the Lowest
Compensation for Women
Schedule a free consultation to discover how we can help you earn equal pay.
Gender Equity Toolkit
Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the interaction and exchange of information between women surgeons. The following Gender Equity Toolkit provides research and resources for career advancement, the gender salary gap, negotiation, and sexual harassment.
Career Goals, Salary Expectations, and Salary Negotiation Among Male and Female General Surgery Residents
Women in surgery have similar career goals to men. Yet, women expect less, earn less, and represent fewer leadership positions.
Female residents on average anticipate an ideal starting salary of $30,000 less than male residents. Women in this study anticipate working the same hours and retiring at the same age as their male counterparts. Given this, a $30,000 difference translated across a 30-year career amounts to a $900,000 potential difference in lost wages over a lifetime.
Women in Surgery
How to Address:
Increase the number of women in surgical leadership
Make all faculty salaries transparent – provide faculty with accurate salary goals and highlight potential existing disparities to be addressed
Create a standardized compensation plan (result in Hoops et al: significant improvement in female surgery salaries, no change in male salaries, women still earned less
Read the full Journal of the American Medical Association Surgery article here.